Exit Interview Questions and Tips for Veterinary Practices

Many veterinary practices today are struggling with high team turnover. In fact, according to the Finding the Time publication by IDEXX, 77% of practices surveyed report having lost at least one staff member in the last year. If your veterinary practice or hospital is consistently losing valuable team members, you need to take a close look at the root causes.

Exit interviews are a helpful but underutilized tool to do just that. They can turn an employee departure into a positive learning experience for both parties. However, to be effective, your exit interview questions must be carefully crafted and presented to encourage honest, uncensored, and useful feedback. Here's how.

What Is an Exit Interview?

Exit interviews are one-on-one meetings between a resigning employee and a veterinary practice manager, owner, or human resources professional. In these interviews, practice managers can ask frank questions about the employee experience—positives and negatives alike—and what led to the resignation. The conversation will probably also unveil issues the employee was reticent to discuss while under contract. Just keep in mind that exit interviews are not a retention tool—rather, they are an opportunity to learn about how employees view and operate in your practice.

Why Conduct Exit Interviews in Veterinary Practices

Veterinary support personnel leave their jobs for a variety of reasons. Wages and benefits are easy to blame, but more pervasive—and often less obvious—factors may also be at play, such as problems with leadership, practice culture, and workload, as well as poor growth opportunities. 67% of practices surveyed in the Finding the Time publication indicated "improving operational efficiency" as a high or top need. If these underlying causes are not identified and addressed, practices are doomed to repeat the same hiring-resigning cycle, which not only affects profits but also team confidence and morale—not to mention client satisfaction.

Interviews with resigning veterinary team members also create an opportunity to end the professional relationship amicably by showing the employee that you appreciate their service, value their honest feedback, and are open to making positive change. Although retaining them as an employee is unlikely, asking them to share their experiences can help ensure they will speak positively about your organization and help protect your veterinary practice's reputation among job seekers, especially if your turnover has been significant.

Finally, if the employee is forthcoming about their new employment, the exit interview can provide insight into competitor compensation and benefits, which can help you realign yours.

How to Structure the Exit Interview

Establishing an exit interview template is the best way to ensure you get useful feedback at each meeting. Standardized questions create a consistent interviewee experience and make identifying internal problems easier, given that multiple employees may have similar answers.

  • Provide the employee with the questions in advance. For the best feedback, exit interviews should put the employee at ease. Providing the questions in advance can help them know what to expect and make them more likely to provide thoughtful, honest answers. Pre-interview surveys and questionnaires that can be completed and submitted before the interview can help you customize your questions and delve deeper into specific areas or topics.

  • Convey the goal. Before you get to the heart of the meeting, remind your employee that an exit interview is a judgment-free zone for them to voice their opinions, concerns, and frustrations. The goal is to improve the practice and overall management.

  • Offer a phone or virtual option when appropriate. Although in-person meetings are best, consider an alternative, such as a virtual or off-campus meeting, as reluctant employees may be willing to speak more honestly in a less confrontational format.

What Questions to Ask in the Exit Interview

On the whole, questions should be positive in topic and tone—for example, "What did you like most about your time here?" Negative questions such as "What do you think is wrong with this practice?" will only create tension and likely short, unhelpful responses. Open-ended questions also tend to work better as they avoid bias and encourage expanded answers.

As you pose each question or prompt, ensure your employee can think and speak without interruption. Resist the urge to respond defensively or propose possible solutions, as it may make the employee shut down, losing the opportunity to gather authentic feedback.

Examples of questions include:

  • What was your favorite part of this job?

  • Were you appropriately supported in your role?

  • Did you have what you needed to successfully perform your job?

  • Was your job aligned with your original job description? If not, how did they differ?

  • Did you feel heard and appreciated? Did your work matter?

  • How would you describe our workplace?

  • What prompted you to search for a new job?

  • What—if anything—would motivate you to return to this practice?

  • If you could make changes in the practice, what would they be? Do you have a solution for how we could implement such changes?

When you need to encourage further explanation, use gentle prompts such as:

  • Can you tell me more?

  • Will you elaborate on that?

  • Can you explain what you mean?

These questions can also be used during an annual review process to measure employee satisfaction and may preempt potential turnover.

What to Do with Veterinary Team Members' Responses

Conclude the interview by expressing gratitude for your employee's time and contributions to the practice. Then, review and reflect on the employee's responses and suggestions. Look for actionable steps that could prevent other similarly motivated resignations. These may include:

  • Providing more thorough training or mentorship for new team members

  • Rewriting job descriptions

  • Offering more career development opportunities through continuing education, advanced training and credentialing incentives, and tuition reimbursement

  • Addressing ineffective leadership or a toxic workplace culture

  • Increasing compensation and benefits to align with competing practices

If your veterinary practice is struggling with increased team member turnover, well-crafted exit interview questions can provide powerful insights that will allow you to take strategic action and build a sustainable, rewarding, and healthy workplace.

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Sarah Rumple
Owner, Chief Creative Officer of Rumpus Writing and Editing

Sarah Rumple is an award-winning veterinary writer and editor. Since 2011, her work has focused on pet health/behavior and veterinary practice management topics. Her clients include individual veterinary practice owners, national corporations, nonprofit associations, media companies, consultants, and others. Learn more at sarahrumple.com.

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